132 minutes | Rated PG-13
The recent movies based on the super heroes from DC comics have been a bit of a mixed bag. The Batman movies directed by Christopher Nolan were excellent, as was Wonder Woman. Green Lantern, Batman vs. Superman, Suicide Squad, and Justice League all could’ve been a lot better. Shazam! like Aquaman has lightened up the tone and is a fun movie. Based on the hero originally known as Captain Marvel, created by C.C. Beck and Bill Parker in 1939, that debuted in issue two of Whiz Comics, the movie tells the story of a young street kid named Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel, who is granted powers by the wizard Shazam, portrayed by Djimon Hounsou. Upon saying the wizard’s name young Billy is transformed into Earth’s Mightiest Mortal. In this form he is played by Zachary Levi from TV’s Chuck.
At one time, the character (originally published by Fawcett Comics) rivaled Superman in popularity. Superman’s publisher, DC Comics sued Fawcett over the similarity between the characters. Eventually, DC Comics ended up buying the rights to the character after Fawcett went out of business. During the 1970’s rival publisher Marvel Comics acquired the rights to the name “Captain Marvel” and applied it to their Kree space captain, and eventually to the Carol Danvers character from the movie they released a few months ago. This resulted in the character being called Shazam.
The film opens at Christmas time we join a young Thaddeus Sivana riding to a holiday gathering with his father and older brother. The older men blame the studious young man for his mother’s death in childbirth. There is an accident and Sivana is magically transported to the Rock of Eternity where the elderly Shazam, the last of the Council of Wizards is seeking a champion to pass his powers on to. The Council exists to protect the universe from the seven deadly sins which they have imprisoned in statues on the Rock of Eternity. The wizard is searching for one who is pure of heart. Sivana tells him that such a person no longer exists. The young man, tempted by their power, releases the sins and the wizard banishes him from the Rock of Eternity, vowing to find his champion.
Billy was abandoned by his mother and has been bouncing from home to home in the foster care system. While searching for his mother, Billy runs afoul of the authorities and is placed with a new foster family consisting of a couple and their multi-ethnic foster children Mary, Darla, Eugene, Pedro, and Freddy. Freddy, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, is disabled and into all things super hero. He owns a bullet which supposedly bounced off of Superman. This makes Freddy a favorite target of bullies. During one of these encounters, Billy defends him and is chased into a subway car by the bullies. Just like Sivana, Billy is transported to the Rock of Eternity where the wizard believes he has found his champion. Billy is granted powers by the wizard and returned to Earth in an adult body. He goes to Freddy, the only person he knows that knows anything about super hero stuff, for help.
Meanwhile, Sivana has been obsessed with returning to the Rock of Eternity and is now controlling the powers of the Seven Deadly Sins. He takes control of his father’s company and uses its resources. In Billy, he recognizes the power of the wizard and seeks it for himself.
Shazam! is a fun movie. It’s not as good as Wonder Woman, but is one of the better of DC’s recent offerings. It has a lot of heart, humor and warmth that has been sorely needed in most of DC’s movies to date. The film is rated PG-13 for some mild language, action violence, some frightening images, and a few thematic issues (Billy in his adult body exits a strip club and comments on the nice people inside, for example.) It should be fine for most older children and up. I rate it four out of five overcharged cell-phones.